By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by Sarah Oden | Hair & Makeup by Suzy Balkman with Bristle + Balm | Wardrobe from Feinstein’s | Shot on location at The Curve Market in Scott
Bobbi McDaniel has a heart for service and improving the welfare of children. The startling statistics of food insecurity among the state’s most vulnerable residents garnered the attention of Bobbi and her husband Dustin. Arkansas ranks among the highest in the nation of households facing food insecurity – 25% of children go to bed hungry. The McDaniels realized in our agriculturally abundant region, there are sustainable solutions to reduce the suffering. As ardent ambassadors for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Bobbi and Dustin will welcome guests to Serving Up Solutions later this month to celebrate the continued mission fulfillment work of the organization.
Bobbi is a Georgia native, but considers Arkansas home after more than two decades in the Natural State. Her community service includes an unwavering commitment to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Auxiliary, Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Arkansas Repertory Theatre, as Education Committee Chairman. “My volunteerism is focused around children and children’s health issues. One in three children are hungry in this state, now improved to one in four,” Bobbi explains. “The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance cultivates awareness and collaborations between community partners across the state that empower and educate those experiencing food insecurity.” Dustin adds, “When Kathy asked us to chair this year’s Serving Up Solutions, we were honored to do it. Truthfully, Bobbi is the straw that stirs the drink. She has worked tirelessly. We are so grateful to the legislators who make this event so unique and successful. It could not work without them.”
As the only statewide hunger advocacy organization in Arkansas, the Alliance has several national affiliations as well as a network of constituents – business leaders, public officials, nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens – all with a finite focus on eliminating food insecurity in Arkansas. Through these strategic partnerships, the Alliance effectively reduces hunger and improves access to nutritious food. Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance Executive Director Kathy Webb notes, “We provide a support network of foodbanks, hunger relief organizations and hunger advocates in Arkansas.”
The Alliance realizes education and connections are key elements to creating measurable results. Food sourcing fresh produce – made possible through logistics programs – secures staples that might otherwise not be available at food pantries. The Arkansas Gleaning Project is a unique program that brings produce from Arkansas farmers into the Alliance for distribution. “The Arkansas Gleaning Project implements a biblical practice of harvesting crops that would typically go to waste. Since the start of our program in 2008, we have provided over 11.5 million pounds of fresh produce to foodbanks across our state,” Kathy adds, “Food policy plays a critical role in increasing access to adequate food. We work with state and national leaders to craft legislation that supports initiatives that provide better access to food for those in need.”
Each summer, the Alliance and the Arkansas Legislative Hunger Caucus come together in friendly competition for an evening that celebrates Southern hospitality and sustainable solutions to food insecurity in Arkansas. The menu features delicious creations from a few of the Capital City’s tastiest restaurants and legislators are the servers. “We ask for table contributions – in the form of tip jars – at the end of the night,” Bobbi jokes. “It becomes bragging rights among the legislators, who gets the most ‘tips’ and it all supports the Alliance.”
Many of Bobbi’s most cherished memories include bountiful meals with family + friends; gatherings that were equal parts delicious and delightful. “It’s these kind of fond associations that I wanted my kids to have – so, I cook. There are lots of parents that can’t offer a guaranteed meal, not to mention a special meal. The impact of hunger is not just physical, it is also emotional and mental. We can end hunger and everyone can help be part of the solution.”